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Tips for Talking Politics at Family Gatherings (If You Dare)

Read these tips about talking politics at Thanksgiving to foster dialogue, not hostility.
The midterm elections were more contentious than ever this year. There were weeks of non-stop political ads where one candidate talked trash about the other, which were usually accompanied by damaging newspaper headlines or somber music.

Now that the elections are finally over, the last thing you want to do is talk politics, right? You might be surprised. People are as fired up as ever, and I totally expect that to carry over into Thanksgiving — one of the times you’re told to not talk politics.

Against my mother’s wishes, I have been ignoring this advice for years, and I’ve learned what did and didn’t work when discussing politics at Thanksgiving. Every year, 50 to 60 of my aunts, uncles, and cousins gather at my grandma’s for the holidays. On more than one occasion, I have crossed the line when talking about politics, but I’ve refined my approach to this controversial topic — or, at least I’ve tried.

Here are a few tips for what’s worked for me in fostering true dialogue — not argument — around politics at the Thanksgiving table.

Be respectful

This might be the simplest — but also the most difficult — piece of advice to follow. Now, more than ever, political beliefs are ingrained in us in such a way that they become very personal to us. We protect and nurture them like they were our children. But that doesn’t mean we should scream and yell at someone just because their beliefs are different, especially if you want them to actually listen.

Instead, consistent civil discourse is the best way to go if you want to have a productive conversation. That doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily change someone’s mind, but it might mean that they at least understand your side of a political issue, something I would say isn’t all that common today. Remember, during Thanksgiving you’re with the people you love, even if you don’t agree with them all the time.

Know your stuff

Between CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and other politics-driven television stations, there is an endless amount of commentary available to us. But this commentary should not be taken solely at face value. Not that these television stations don’t break news, but they also mostly present biased political personalities, who may not be as reliable as they seem.

Instead, make sure you’re consuming multiple sources of information on any one topic and know your facts. If you go to Thanksgiving dinner, and your only argument is “CNN said this” or “Fox News said that” then no one will take you seriously.

Trust me on this one. I couldn’t tell you how many times I expressed an opinion that I took from a political pundit, only to have it blow up in my face at Thanksgiving because the view I was expressing wasn’t my own, and I wasn’t as confident in the facts as I should have been.

If you’re going to talk about why climate change is a serious concern, back it up with facts and statistics and anticipate push back. But ultimately, it should be your information that does the talking, not your anger or competitive nature.

Be open-minded

When it comes to politics, it’s important to be open-minded when it comes to what other people are saying. That doesn’t mean you need to be prepared to alter your political ideologies while you pass the stuffing, but it does mean you need to listen to what other people are saying if you want them to listen to you.

Remember, you’re trying to have a conversation about politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table — you’re not there to give a lecture.

Don’t bring up politics

At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with biting your tongue and refraining from political topics around the holidays. And you should feel free to ask family members to do the same.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other family gatherings are about spending time with your loved ones. In the right contexts, civil dialogue on political and social issues can foster a feeling of togetherness. But proceed with caution — it’s unlikely that anyone can solve the world’s problems while talking over a turkey, anyway.

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